66 Book update:  More leads on Jack Peabody, his horse farm and White Fence Farm restaurant

You just never know where your research will lead.  Sometimes they take you indirectly to some great stories, which makes being willing to dig around a little further than most people will very rewarding.  And sometimes those stories just seem to come on a silver platter.

I’d written a post last December about the possible remnants of outbuildings on what used to be the Jack Peabody horse farm on Joliet Road/historic Route 66, at Bluff Road on the border between Lemont and Romeoville.  We got to see those buildings last September, courtesy of local resident Ann Dralle, whose property on Davey Road backs up to the eastern end of what used to be first the Peabody horse farm (Arrow Brook Farm), then the Elwyn Reed farm, then Hillcrest Park, the private/corporate picnic grounds.

White Fence Farm, lower left, with the Hassert homestead, upper left, and part of the Peabody Arrow Brook Farm, upper right, circa 1939 (1939 aerial survey)

White Fence Farm, lower left, with the Hassert homestead, upper left, and part of the Peabody Arrow Brook Farm, upper right, circa 1939 (1939 aerial survey)

The Hassert homestead was across Joliet Road from the Peabodys.  Now, nine months after we ran the post, we hear from some of Pearl Hassert’s relatives who apparently stumbled onto our blog post (or was that your doing, Ann? ;D ).  And they wrote to us with interesting tidbits.  First, Pearl’s nephew Earl Hassert wrote to tell us that our aerial photo of White Fence Farm and the Peabody property was actually circa 1950, not 1939 as we had originally been led to believe.  When I wrote back to thank him for the info, he provided us with a bit more information in two e-mails:

“Dear Maria,

Pearl Hassert Thoman is my aunt.  She will be 94 in Sept.  She, her sisters Irene and Evelyn, and her three brothers, Roy, Howard, and my father George, were born and raised on the farm.  My father lived there and farmed the property until 1978.  I was born in 1945 and lived on the farm until 1968.

The black and white photo shows a sign near Rt. 66.  My father, George Hassert, allowed a Site gas station which was located on Rt. 66 just north of Joliet to erect the sign for a yearly fee.  Although photo is attributed to 1939, the sign wasn’t there until the early ’50s.  I may be mistaken; there might have been a previous sign that I was not aware of.

My grandfather, Albert Hassert and his brother Sam (his is the white house in the upper right of the photo, were friends of Jack Peabody.  My aunts Irene and Pearl both worked for the ‘Farm’ when they were young.  Aunt Pearl has a picture circa 1938 of the staff.  My uncle Howard did some stonework for flower beds around the ‘Farm,’ my Uncle Roy trained horses for the Peabodys, and my father acted as a caretaker for a while.  My mother (and Brent’s), Blanche Erickson Hassert and our father once lived in a small house behind the White Fence Farm.  That house was torn down to build Robert and Doe’s Hastert’s house, which still stands behind White Fence Farm.  I worked for the Hasterts at White Fence Farm in various capacities from 1962-1968.  …

Both my grandfather and his brother died many years ago.  Only my Aunt Pearl Thoman (94) and Aunt Irene Schindel (95) are still alive.  Aunt Pearl is as sharp as a tack, but Aunt Irene had a stroke and is not in good condition.”

WOW – someone actually connected to the Peabodys!  With some family members who worked at the horse farm and some who worked at the restaurant-farm.   Earl then assured me I’d hear from Pearl’s daughter soon, which happened within a day or two.  Here’s what Rebecca Thoman Ward had to say:

“…  I’ve always been interested in the family history and find your story fascinating.  My mom is getting very forgetful now at 94.  But we will see her this weekend, and maybe I can get her to talk a little bit.  I do know this:  Pearl and Irene Hassert Schindel worked at the White Fence Farm when they were teenagers.  I have pictures from there prior to WWII.

My dad did take us down to see the Peabody ‘mansion’ when it was run down.  It was hard to imagine it had been an upper crust society farm.  My great grandparents Karl [sp?] and Caroline Blasing owned or rented property on the east [end] of Bluff Road.  They lived in a house that was called the Singer House.  Before that they lived in a lean to down by the river on the west [end] of Bluff Road.  They then moved to home on Stevens St. in Lemont.

My great uncles were all born in Stassfurt, Germany.  My grandmother Fredricka Wilhemina Caroline was born in the United States.  Fredricka and Albert owned the farm that Earl told you about.  I believe Jack Peabody offered to help my grandfather pay for my Aunt Irene’s sickness.  She had a bone infection when she was younger.  And my mother had her appendix out but then got peritonitis.  She was in the hospital a long time in Joliet, and story has that Jack Peabody helped Albert out then, also.”

Route 66 (diagonal) runs through Romeoville-Lockport area, circa 1939.  Davey Road is the horizontal line at the top, Bluff Road the line in the middle.  Easily visible is the large oval walking track for the horses.  The Peabody house is in the trees at the northeast end of the pond north of bluff Road.  Photo from the Illinois Aerial Survey.

U.S. Route 66 (diagonal) runs through Romeoville-Lockport area in this circa 1939 photo.  Davey Road is the horizontal line at the top, Bluff Road the line in the middle.  Easily visible is the large oval walking track for the horses.  The Peabody house is in the trees at the northeast end of the pond north of bluff Road.  White Fence Farm and its parking lot are west of the oval track on the opposite side of Route 66/Joliet Road, and the Hastert homestead was immediately to the north of the restaurant; the farmhouse is in the tiny grove of trees.  Photo from the Illinois Aerial Survey.

So:  we can’t talk to the people who were actually friends of Jack’s because, like Jack, they’re gone now – but we do know something about who worked for whom, and where.  And we also now know about at least two instances of his personal philanthropy, which, if they occurred before WW II, likely happened during the Great Depression.  We’d heard that Jack was a charitable guy who took his conversion to Catholicism – probably done for Anita and her very Irish-Catholic family – very seriously; but we hadn’t yet heard personal stories like that.  And there are photos!!  Stassfurt, BTW, is 191 km southwest of Berlin.

Don’t let writers tell you that writing is always and everywhere their favorite thing:  sometimes it’s running across stories like this while you’re doing research that makes it all worthwhile.

 
Until next time,
Marie

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